More thinning on private land OK’d |

More thinning on private land OK’d

State officials are relaxing cutting rules on private timberlands in an emergency move to thin California’s choked woods during a severe wildfire season.

The California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection has adopted an emergency regulation to reduce wildfire hazards for “communities at risk” – 1,320 of them in-state – which include every residential area in Nevada County and the surrounding area.

From Marysville to Auburn to Truckee, over to Sierraville and all inhabited areas in between, fire danger is already at level 3, the highest threat, according to the California Fire Alliance, which is made up of state and federal fire experts.

Nevada County fire experts earlier this week warned that already dry forest fuels, expected lightning strikes and wind could add up to at least one bad fire this year, and maybe more. BLM lightning strike detectors pinpoint many strikes, but blazes can get going quickly and spread at night in the backcountry, said Jeanne Pincha-Tulley of the Tahoe National Forest.

“The wind starts at midnight,” she said. “(The fire is) usually a pretty good size by the time we get there.”

The fire officials have been working on a county fire plan already and have urged residents to clear around their homes and property. Drying conditions are already similar to past bad fire years, and officials warn that another blaze like the 49er Fire of 1988 could easily occur.

The Sierra Club’s forestry lobbyist in Sacramento said the state’s plan to let private landowners cut trees up to 26-inch diameter at breast height was not of great concern. The work is planned for the urban interface, where it is needed, said Paul Mason of the Mother Lode Chapter.

“Generally, its a pretty good approach,” Mason said. “They’re focusing on small stuff and retaining the large stuff,” which is what the Sierra Club wants. Losing some trees above 20 inches in diameter means that many even larger will flourish, Mason said.

Taking some of the larger trees should cut down the cost of thinning, said George Gentry, the forestry board’s executive officer.

“It lets owners get some economic advantage so they can break even,” Gentry said. At Lake Arrowhead in the area of Southern California that burned, “they’re spending $10,000 to $20,000 to get this work done, and we don’t want that.”

Michelle Phillips of the Nevada County Fire Safe Council recently said it costs about $1,000 per acre to have private land thinned if done by a professional. Residents can save a lot of money by doing it themselves and then having the council’s chipper come by and grind it up for free, Phillips said.

A program that lets some fires burn in the Sierra to take care of vegetation buildup was announced this week, as well, as a concerted effort between the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the U.S. National Park Service and the EPA. The idea behind “wildland fire use” is to contain an blaze that is already burning and perhaps even steer it through uninhabited areas that need thinning.

But Forest Service District 5 spokesman Matt Mathes said the Sierra’s already extra-dry conditions could start fires so hot they would preclude using the plan. The plan also does not include the Sierra north of Placer County.

The plan is the agencies’ official sign that they are trying to reintroduce fire into the ecosystem again, Gentry said. It should take effect by the end of the month and could be come permanent in the lower Gold Country by Jan. 1, 2005.

In case of fire…

When a wildfire breaks out, the smoke is often visible and alarming, but sometimes not close by.

If you are wondering about an area wildfire, you can keep track of it through the local media, including:

Web sites:

– The Union ”

– YubaNet ”

Radio stations:

– KNCO-AM ” 830

– KNCO-FM ” 94.1

– KVMR-FM ” 89.5


Protecting your home

– Keep a 100-foot area clear around the house, with only low-fuel-volume plants within 30 feet.

– Keep a 10-foot area between the edges of all tree canopies clear.

– Group plants in islands to avoid fire spread.

– Keep all grasslands mowed.

– Keep your roof and gutters free of all woodland debris.

– Have an attached hose, shovel, gloves, fire extinguisher and bucket ready.

– Remove all dead and dying trees and trim the limbs up 8 to 10 feet if they are at least 1/3 to 1/2 as tall as the trunk.

– For a large parcel, consider cutting a fuel break on one side, keeping grass and berries to 4 inches high with mowers or weedeaters.

– Use the Nevada County Fire Safe Council’s free chipping program.

Call Erin Taylor at 470-4193 and contact these agencies for more information:

– Fire Safe Council of Nevada County: Experts with programs and printed information are also available at, or by e-mail at

– California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection: Homeowners can find a large amount of information at and the fire safety education link.

– California Natural Resources Conservation Service: Learn how to fireproof your home with the booklet, “Living in the Foothills,” available at You can also pick up a copy at the Nevada County office, which is at 113 Presley Way, Suite 1, Grass Valley, right across Main Street from the Nevada County Country Club.

– Tahoe National Forest, 265-4531 or

Sources: Nevada County Fire Safe Council, the Nevada County Consolidated Fire District, Nevada-Yuba-Placer CDF and the Tahoe National ForestFire Clearing


Fire-safe plants

Given enough fire and heat, any plant will burn, but some do better than others and can help stop the spread of fire. Here are a few that work in the Sierra:

Plants and flowers: California poppy, wild strawberry, creeping Oregon grape, perennial monkeyflower.

Woody plants: Bearberry, squaw carpet, English ivy.

Color plants: Dwarf snapdragon, primrose, Iceland poppy.

Small trees: Flowering dogwood, Japanese maple, crape myrtle.

Sources: Nevada County Fire Safe Council and Maureen Gilmer Books.

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